Waste Reduction

Cleveland Clinic is committed to reducing waste across our healthcare system. By engaging our caregivers to minimize the waste we send to our landfills, we are protecting the environment, reducing costs and improving land, air and water quality in our communities. We have made significant progress in a number of areas that advanced our system in responsible waste management.

Landfill Diversion

Enterprise Waste Stream by Category

Main Campus Diversion Rate

In 2015, our enterprise landfill diversion rate was 33% and fluctuated from 30% to 38% throughout the year. We have made significant progress since 2007 but have stagnated in recent years. We are implementing a number of programs to help us reach our 50% diversion goal.

Zero Waste Committee

Waste Audit

In 2015, the Office for a Healthy Environment formed an inter-departmental zero waste committee with the goal of reaching a 50% landfill diversion rate or more by the end of 2017. Our enterprise recycling rate fluctuates between 30 to 40%, and to combat stagnation in improvement we conducted waste audits at several of our hospitals to identify potential opportunities. Even in the frigid air of Ohio in January, passionate caregivers audited the trash of Hillcrest Hospital and were able to identify nearly 800 pounds that could be diverted from the landfill.

Purple Bag Expansion

Diverted Clinical Plastics

In 2015, we completed a system-wide expansion of our clinical plastics recycling program that was created by Cleveland Clinic in partnership with Buckeye Industries and our waste vendor. In 2015, we increased our diverted tons of clinical plastics from 96 to 193 tons via this innovative partnership, as well as created more than 50 jobs for community members with developmental disabilities. Participating facilities competed on a monthly basis to see which team of caregivers could divert the most clinical plastics from the landfill. In 2015, in excluding main campus, Fairview Hospital diverted the most with an annual total of 22 tons.

See our 2014 UNGC Report for a detailed program summary.

Learn More

Single Stream Paper Shredding & Recycling

We offer a single stream paper shredding/recycling program to our facilities to further protect the personal information of our patients and to simplify the collection process for our employees. All paper, regardless of the sensitivity of the document is collected in our secured shredding containers. When this program became operational in 2010 we observed an increase on the order of 44% in the amount of paper captured in our secure shredding bins. Not only does this program improve our HIPAA compliance as we shred all paper, simplify the collection process for our employees, but it also reduces cost as we have leveraged the value of our paper waste commodity to negotiate lower service rates. This program is now among our lowest cost methods of recycling or disposal.

In 2015, we recycled over 3300 tons of paper, which has preserved over 56,000 trees.

Single Use Device Reprocessing

In the past, when clinical instruments were unused but removed from their packaging pre-surgery in our ORs, these items were incinerated or treated as regulated medical waste. In 2011, we adopted a single-use device program where these devices are recycled and remade through an in-depth and strictly regulated process. The reprocessed items are then sold at a lower cost to healthcare providers. The reprocessed equipment is subject to greater regulations than when it was originally created, ensuring the safety of patients and caregivers.

In November 2014, Cleveland Clinic began the conversion process between vendors for our Suture and EndoMechanical staplers. At our main campus we historically purchase around 875 powered staplers annually, but the transition provides the sustainability opportunity to reuse the handle up to 50 times. This will cut down our waste of these large handles from 876 units to almost 18 units, a reduction of nearly 98%.

Managing Hazardous and Regulated Wastes

Hazardous materials such as sterilization and water treatment chemicals, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products, electronic wastes, laboratory chemicals, and radiological films and wastes are an important part of the healthcare delivery model. Proper management of these materials is critical to protecting the health of our caregivers and the community at large. As part of our chemical disposal program, our pharmaceutical waste program was recently expanded to capture all pharmaceutical waste for responsible disposal thus preventing contamination of the environment. All hazardous and regulated waste generated at Cleveland Clinic is treated appropriately and disposed of domestically.

Learn More About Environmental Health and Safety.

Waste Segregation

We track the average total cost per ton to dispose of a given material type to convey the importance of proper waste segregation. Regulated medical waste (RMW), due to the special treatment steps, whether they are performed on-site or downstream, requires proper disposal, making it among the most costly waste streams – second only to hazardous waste. While we take great care to make sure that all appropriate medical waste is disposed of properly, inevitably there is a significant amount of waste that ends up in biohazard bags that is not contaminated and should not be treated as such.

In 2014, Matthew Davis, MD, a Ken Lee Memorial Fellow, conducted a 10-day blinded audit of OR RMW waste container utilization. Findings indicated an opportunity to improve RMW container optimization, as between 50-70% of supposed RMW waste was, in actuality, regular waste. After right-sizing containers in OR suites, a second blinded audit was conducted to the hypothesis that incorrect waste disposal was largely due to lack of proactivity towards correct waste segregation. These audits continued in 2015, and Dr. Davis was able to show a 30% decrease from baseline. When the program is rolled out enterprise wide it will result in significant enterprise savings.

Dr. Davis will seek to publish his findings in a peer-reviewed journal, with the intent to inform on caregiver engagement and sustainability in healthcare. His findings will inform a broad internal re-education campaign targeting use and composition of our RMW.

Going Green by Using Blue

Our green team recycling sustainability motto is “Go green by using blue!” In 2015, our enterprise comingled “blue-bag” recycling program diverted 2,536 tons of cans, bottles, glass, cardboard, and poster board from the landfill. The Office for a Healthy Environment works with green teams and the Environmental Health & Safety department across the enterprise to right size our recycling containers and adjust service frequencies to meet our needs.

Know Where to Throw

Know Where to Throw

Channel Your Inner EcoCaregiverâ„¢


In 2015, Cleveland Clinic recycled over 3,540 tons of materials across the enterprise.